Money grows on trees for this firm
Campbell Group leader talks about future of timberland
By KATIE WILSON
East Oregonian Publishing Group
ASTORIA, Ore. -- There's a lot of forest out there.
The United States alone has about 8 percent of the forestland in the world, John Gilleland, Campbell Group's president and chairman of the board of directors, told the audience at the Columbia Forum in Astoria Oct. 5.
And Oregon -- well, Oregon, has been leading the states in lumber production for years, if not decades, he said.
The Campbell Group, a Portland-based timberland investment company, is relatively new in town.
Before introducing Gilleland, Daily Astorian publisher Steve Forrester said one guest told him, "I really don't know anything about The Campbell Group."
With the group owning roughly one-fourth of Clatsop County, Gilleland may be "the most important person in our county you've never met," Forrester said.
The company has been growing and harvesting trees on the Lewis and Clark Oregon Timber operation, a 140,000-acre spread previously owned by Weyerhaeuser Co., for almost a year now, but they keep things quiet.
Mark Morgans, Campbell Group's area manager in Clatsop County, worked for Weyerhaeuser and another former owner of that land, Willamette Industries. There were big banners then, even television commercials, announcing the companies' presence.
Now, "we keep things fairly low-key," Morgans said.
At the Forum, Gilleland spoke mostly about the investment side of the company.
The company, he said, started in the early 1980s. Then, like now, there was high unemployment.
But the company took the plunge.
"Timber did what we and others were telling investors it would do," Gilleland said.
"We do think that timber performs better in the private markets than in the public markets," he said. "There are just different pressures that exist in different forms of ownership."
The company doesn't run sawmills or own ships. It is an investment company and investors direct land-management decisions.
Since the '80s, there has been a shift in ownership. More and more timber and forest land is being handled by real estate investment trusts and timber investment management organizations, among which Campbell Group is numbered).
Money sometimes does grow on trees and the new companies see a different value in the land: There is more there than just an ability to generate timber.
The Campbell Group owns approximately 3 million acres across the United States and has $5.7 billion of timberland assets under management. The lands are located, for the most part, in the Northwest and Southeast corners of the country.
The company's focus, though, is always on the community it enters, Gilleland said.
They've made a point to work with local groups and organizations, everyone from the North Coast Land Conservancy to Trout Unlimited and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
And, Gilleland said in his presentation, they've opened up the land to visitors, for hunting or for other recreation.
"Before, the access was very much controlled," Morgans agreed.
Speaking of his years spent in the area working with several timber companies, Morgans said there is a commitment to stewardship in the Campbell Group.
"They emphasize that with their management of the forest, making sure we're good stewards," he said.
At the Lewis and Clark site, the company plans to rotate harvests about every 45 years, Gilleland said. They make a point of replanting with strong, healthy seedlings, primarily hemlock, spruce and Douglas fir.
He believes timber and housing will go back up despite the recession. These things are cyclical, he said.
"We like wood houses and we're a growing population," Gilleland said. Timber demands are high, often for (if not new houses) repair and remodeling of existing houses.
"We're a user of wood and we want to sustain that," he said. "We don't want to deplete that.